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Following a successful bid at the end of 2018, The College of Haringey, Enfield, and North East London (CONEL) was awarded £150,000 from the Mayor’s Young Londoners Fund. Over the next three years, CONEL will be using this money to invest in a range of initiatives that will support over 700 vulnerable teenagers across six London boroughs who are at risk of falling into a life of crime.

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We spoke to the CONEL staff who are leading this programme, about their work and the difference that it is already making to the lives of the young people involved.

The programme is currently working with a total of 240 young people aged between 14 and 21 years old. Through the programme, our aim is to provide education, support and activities for participants that will deter them from getting involved in criminal activities and help them to make better life choices.

Six London boroughs refer people to the programme: Haringey, Enfield, Barnet, Islington, Camden and Waltham Forest. “The young people who are on the programme have been identified as ‘at risk’”, explains Jonathan Silman (Head of School for Key Stage 4 at CONEL). “This means that most of them have been repeatedly suspended, or even expelled, from secondary school. Many have experienced things that no child should have to see – they need support and a safe space, as well as an education.

“Many of the males and females on the programme (the gender mix is approximately 50:50) have experienced a traumatic incident or incidents, such as seeing a friend stabbed or killed, or they live in abusive or dysfunctional households – maybe with no parents or a single parent who is finding it hard to cope.” Jonathan Silman continues. In addition, many of them have been involved in gang activity and some have been forced to work in ‘county lines’ drug dealing operations, where gangs and organised crime networks exploit children to sell drugs.

Because the young people’s needs vary by their age and ability, there are two parts to the programme: one that works with 14-16 year olds and the other that supports 16-21 year olds.

Support for 14-16 year olds

For the 90 14-16 year olds (Key Stage 4), there are two pathways in the programme – both of which provide full-time education and support to the students:

  • The GCSE pathway, where the main objective is to enable students to take 5 GCSEs and achieve grades 5-9 in those subjects – setting them up for taking A levels, or progressing into work, an apprenticeship or study a vocational course like a BTEC or NVQ (National Vocational Qualification). The students take lessons in the core GCSE subjects including English and maths, as well as Level 1 vocational qualifications in sport, construction and hair & beauty.
  • The Functional Skills pathway, which is for students who need more support – here the objective is for participants to improve their basic English and maths skills to a level where they can take some functional skills exams or enrol at a Further Education college, like CONEL. Subjects taken can include English, maths, catering, music, sport, construction and hair & beauty at Level 1.

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Mental health support

Many of the programme’s participants are also living with mental health problems as a result of the traumatic things they have experienced in their young lives, so it’s vital that the programme can help students address these issues too. As Jonathan Silman explains: “Mental ill-health is a massive issue in the UK, but especially among less well-off young Londoners. Funding for children’s mental health services has been cut across London and waiting lists for accessing the specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services that they need, can, in some cases be over a year.

“In the meantime, we need to help the teenagers on our programme start to understand, process and come to terms with their experiences, so we have brought in a Psychotherapist who is working with the 14-16 year olds initially to support them. She has been talking to the teenagers, assessing the nature of their trauma, and grades their skills (how good they are at listening, speaking, reading and writing), to see if they are suitable for the GCSE pathway or the Functional Skills one.

“We’re already seeing a big difference on the teenagers’ engagement and attainment. The psychotherapy is working and the students are receptive to the support they are getting from CONEL. For many, it’s the first time that someone has really tried to understand what they’ve been through.”

Support for older students

The other strand of the programme is supporting 150 16-21 year olds. Typically they are students of the college on other courses, but they may be struggling with their studies and have been referred onto the programme by their tutors.

These students attend six weeks of one-hour group mentoring to help motivate them and help them stay on track with their studies. It also aims to deter students from getting involved in criminal activities by showing them the likely outcomes of doing so.

As Anthony Robinson (CONEL’s Head of Learner Experience and Industry Placements) explains: “A lot of the students on this programme have made bad life choices in the past and we want them to have opportunities to step off that path. The mentoring sessions are really useful for the students. Different sessions address different aspects including peer pressure – the role of the students’ friends and peers in pressuring them to act in certain ways – the importance of having an education on their life chances. It’s all about getting the students more engaged and motivated with their courses and reduce their risk level of getting into criminal activity.”

So far, 184 students have now completed the mentoring programme. Student Eraycan Karaks, said, “It was enjoyable, it teaches you a lot about not getting involved with gangs. It has shown me what will happen to me if I join a gang or follow people I think are my friends.”

The programme’s mentors are Royston Johns and Nyki Clark, vastly experienced mentors with over 30 years’ experience of working with young people from challenging backgrounds. They are experts on gang intervention and motivating young people to change their lives around.

In addition, students have heard from inspiring speakers from similar backgrounds to their own, including Amani Simpson, who was stabbed seven times in 2011 and who now speaks to young people about his experiences before and after the attack.

The scourge of knife crime

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Knife crime is a huge concern for young Londoners and many of the students on our programme have experienced this too. So, we’ve been running engaging knife crime events which offer an environment for students and staff to discuss and learn about the issues. Public Services BTEC Level 3 student Syed Salam, was on the programme and attended one of these events. He said, “This was an excellent event for us to hear about the effects of knife-crime on families and the wider community. Hearing from various organisations that are involved in tackling knife crime at a grassroots level was good, as I now know what they are doing, and how I can get involved in helping to reduce knife crime in my community.”

Anthony Robinson said, “We aim to expand our mentoring programme to help more young people and put on a range of different events and workshops that tackle the issues young people face and keep them away from crime.”

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